I had the privilege and the pleasure of living with a French family for four days as part of a Sister City exchange. My group, Oakwood Sister Cities, has the Paris suburb, LeVesinet, as one of its twins. Six of us represented Oakwood at Le Jumelage (twinning) and La Fete de Marguerite celebrations. This year Le Vesinet was marking the twentieth anniversary of their twinning with Wooster, England so there was also a group of about forty English guests including a company of Morris Men dancers.
Le Vesinet is a beautiful, planned city about twenty-five minutes from Paris. The streets and boulevards are tree lined and immaculately clean. The RER (French train system) has two stops in Le Vesinet, La Pecq and Centre Ville. My hosts live quite close to Centre Ville so I could easily walk into the city center for a morning croissant, usually chocolate almond.
In addition to a Friday evening welcoming buffet, there was a luncheon celebrating Le Jumelage on Saturday, and a picnic celebrating La Fete de la Marguerite on Sunday. The Le Vesinet Community Band provided music during the luncheon. The city pays the director and provides rehearsal space and uniforms for the band but the musicians volunteer their time. It was delightful to notice how members had personalized their straw hats with flowers or pins.
On Saturday afternoon we visited Chateaux de Malmaison, Empress Joesphine’s home. Josephine was married to Napoleon Bonaparte who divorced her when she could not bear children with him. Josephine was a woman of many talents and interests. She collected art, had a passion for flowers, especially roses, and animals. She had excellent decorating skills and oversaw the decoration of many of the finest homes in France. She was quite astute politically and entertained often. Our tour guide's extensive knowledge about Josephine, Napoleon, and Malmaison, and her passion for it made history come alive for us.
The Fete de la Marguerite began with an outdoor mass where dogs were welcome. This little fellow was in the row in front of me. It is common in France to see dogs in restaurants and places of business. I wish this was so in the United States!
My favorite part of the visit was the time with my hosts, Catherine and Roger. Roger is retired from a business career in technology. Catherine, retired from her position as a librarian, is devoting her time to Le Vesinet as an elected Deputy Mayor. Although both Le Jumelage and La Fete de la Marguerite were her responsibility and she was very busy, she and Roger managed to make me feel completely welcome. They have a beautiful home including a lovely porch that I claimed as my writing spot.
On Saturday evening, they hosted a barbecue for sixteen of their friends. In addition to beef, lamb, and duck shish kebabs and tabbouleh, Roger prepared an amazing Greek Salad and was kind enough to share his recipe. I do not know if it will taste as good as it did that night given the freshness of the ingredients and that Roger used olive oil from their property in Crete, but I am going to try and make it at home.
As we enjoyed fine champagne, excellent wine, and then seventy-year-old Armagnac, I had the pleasure of talking with their guests and learning about life in France. Although I wanted to practice my new French skills, most had excellent English. One gentleman amazed me with his "nose," identifying each of the facets of the Armagnac. Under his tutelage, I experienced tastes I would otherwise have missed. As I relaxed with my new friends, I could not help but think how fortunate I am to be in France, sharing dinner and drinks, learning new things, and loving life.